When the rhythm of the gears of spring goes into motion so that days will be mellower and easier to bear, then people start dressing in fewer layers and shirts appear in lieu of coats, and scarfs and gloves are soon forgotten. And people also more decidedly go for the window on public transport to open it and let air in. And the deception always lasts the longest on public transport. “S**t! This cold wind…” “’t was sunny like hell yesterday!” And with a congregation of happy folks assembling at bus stops and squeezing in on train platforms, the looks start to wander/wonder who started coughing or sneezing or blaming this constant change of weather, suddenly those funny idiots who kept their scarfs are heralded as judicious and not shortsighted, after all it’s “every year the same.” Nature, blossoming in fantastically green buds and multicolored flowers, watches on, while Zephyr blows, approaching slowly from far away.
“In light of the fact that my clothes are hanging on the doornail, I think I should explain why I’m lying here naked in your bed. You see, last night…” “No, no.” “But it’s important, you mustn’t think I sneaked my way in. You see, last night…” “No, no!” “But if I don’t tell you, then I’ll be the only one to know and I don’t want that. So you see, last…” pause for effect, anticipating. The other looked, was about to say the two-letter starts-with-N and ends-with-O word – didn’t. “…night, there was a crowd partying in the street, along the boulevard, and fireworks, and the garbage cans were on fire, people were peering from their windows, and then like fire shots too in the background. I met you on the shore, near the deserted summer pavilion. I thought the night had scared you, too. And then we came to this part of town.”
Surely a big black plastic garbage bag cannot be a proper suitcase! Surely… tied at the top and held together by two, probably three rounds of brown adhesive tape. It can’t possibly compare with the slim, elegant shape of hand baggage lugged around on wheels with almost no sound. It seems – at the train station, late morning, the smell of coffee and croissant slowly withdrawing to the advance of pizza and savory snacks – that the suitcases pair up in color with their owners. It’s a fight. White folks unsheathe arrays of light-colored bags while on the other side… there are exceptions though, like light-blue plastic bags or a brand-new green suitcase, and colors don’t match. A theory collapses but still holds true. Rich and poor, you know, and all that. And the jarring feeling that something might be about to happen that surmounts it all.
A bookmark, you know, you’d think its function would be pretty self-explanatory. Few words or objects can say that for themselves. Now, the most extraordinary thing was seen. A lady on a train was reading a book, her eyes sliding back and forth line after line, and other eyes too caught by not the text – too small from too far – but by a sentence that presumably and in fine handwriting the lady herself had written on the bookmark: Start here. So, ha! Here’s the train coming to a halt in the station. Final rush to get to the end of a line, the book snapped close, chucked into the purse. Imagine, a few hours later, in the evening, all of this in reverse and then, lo and behold, a piece of hard paper sticking out of the book, what could that be? It says I should start here.
The trained ear never fails to recognize the incoming train. The very well trained ear will also figure out which direction the train’s coming from. Trained as in having spent countless moments at any time of day and at any time of year in the underground station, a northern junction, the two platforms – northbound and to downtown – separated by a wall with strange oval holes at the bottom near the tracks. You can’t see the passengers on the other side but you can feel the movement of the wind and the echo it creates, muffled at first and then like that of a ball rolling (in writing it would be a series of b’s and d’s amplified in pitches that sink lower and lower till the brakes of the incoming train shriek fumingly, though at that point the eyes catch the two massive headlights and sight takes over. Not to mention relief given the unreliable state of public transport!)
On the escalator at a subway station, November 14. This city turns on its centralized heating systems the next day. And come November 10 those five days inevitably occur of inexplicable freezing, of little-electric-heater warm hugs, praying for the roaring sound of all the heating systems being set ablaze at once! And people are apparently more susceptible to a cold under these conditions.
On the escalator, he approaches, a tissue just pulled out of his coat pocket, she hurries ahead in fear of germs.
He notices and smiles – he would do exactly the same.
He steps on the escalator, she’s two steps ahead; he blows his nose, she takes a few steps up.
He smiles again – he would do exactly the same.
Off the escalator on the platform, it all gets lost, her puffy coat, beret and voluminous scarf. His only sneeze in a crowd of quiet coughing.
They smashed their way in through the double-paned French window in the kitchen. They were looking for cash and gold, cheap items they would resell, no traces. They figured there’d be some in the drawers – a house full of drawers! – the average person’s hiding place!
So they pulled them out, went through them, found little or nothing, and then hurled them hard on the ceramic floor tiles downstairs, on the wood flooring upstairs. TVs, computers: they left untouched. A few expensive watches: they tossed on the floor, the glass case all broken. There were old wallets with no money in some of the drawers, those too they flung angrily down on the floor.
“What’s the point of keeping all this old shit?” they must have mumbled, “Who would? Not us. Why do they?”
Marie drew closer, embarrassed, should there be a handshake? She knew she knew. The one, the other. Both connected to the man under the wreaths of colorful flowers. The man in the coffin. Marie the lover, and not so clandestine even; Marie the fiancée; Marie who never got to be the wife. Françoise, from long ago, the girlfriend; Françoise the fiancée; the (first) wife; Françoise the divorcée.
Albert had recently discovered he had a heart condition.
Marie’s hand. Françoise’s firm grasp. Who would have thought? At the café, lit by a gentle sun, they ended up exchanging comments on the hot chocolate, one, and on the blackberry infusion, the other; “He could never…” behind sunglasses; “Yes, that’s true!” hair tied in a bun. “So you never got to be his wife.” “I miss him.” “Oddly, I miss him, too.”
The two employees of the National Archives looked down at the avenue stretching before them, a straight mile or so, at the feet and wheels cutting it at right angles. They were smoking, small-talking. Their eyes suddenly caught a young man with a light-blue briefcase (A student! A scholar!) walking up the avenue in between the manicured hedges and the neatly parked vehicles; he looked up – they looked away, and kept small talking, hiding from each other and him the hope that the light-blue briefcase would reveal a soul interested in archives, so surprising when they had people come in, so annihilating when the dusty shelves stood untouched – no metaphor – for days on end. The young man stopped, opened his briefcase (A folder? Some files?) walked on a bit, reached the steps leading to the massive columns of the National Archives building and sat down (A book! He’s reading! Wonderful sunny day, huh?) Last puff, cigarettes down, backs to the avenue, flags on their poles swinging in the glass doors gently closing.
The day my dog died, I marked, nameless, my territory. From the slope where my apartment is to the end of the street, the traffic light, surprisingly it sounded like no traffic at all for that rush hour, the sun going down, everything going down in turn, to the crosswalk, to another, cut perpendicularly, brakes screeching in silence, then through the gate of the park, up the hill, branches covering the footprints, the smell of horses from the riding center down below – I walked up to a bench in one of the squares, the world now watery and darker because of the sunglasses – a dog rushed by and put his paw on my foot, pierced my soul with his eyes, was whisked away by the voice of his master, just as a squirrel rattled in a whisper, fast, along a twig of a big tree. Coming, I didn’t hear them, and then gone, I saw that. It sounded like they all knew.